Less poverty if RH law implemented earlier – NEDA chief

MANILA, Philippines – An earlier and full implementation of the reproductive health (RH) law could have helped accelerate poverty reduction in the country, according to National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) chief Ernesto Pernia. 

At a press conference on Thursday, July 7, Pernia said the RH law is a "policy of informed choice" and does not dictate on women's preferred contraceptive methods or the size of their family. (READ: No to 3-child policy; DOH to promote family planning instead)

But according to him, surveys have shown poor women prefer to have 3 children on average, instead of 5 which is the national average in the country's poorest households. 

On Thursday, Pernia gave a simulation analysis* of what it would be like if currently married women of reproductive age in the country's poorest quintiles were able to achieve their desired number of children (3 children). 

His simulation showed that if these women in the poorest quintile achieved the average fertility rate, poverty incidence would've been at 25.3% in 2006, instead of the actual 26.4% poverty incidence.

It would've been much lower (24%) if the average was achieved by women in both the poorest quintile and the second poorest quintile.

"If we move to later years...I would expect that the reductions in poverty incidence would even be greater," he added.

Instead, poverty reduction in the country has been "really very slow," which Pernia attributed to the bias of policymakers towards generating employment and producing jobs.

"Population policy and management, and the implementation of RH law is very important," he added.

Using the same simulation, Pernia noted that the country's population size would've been only 97 million in 2016, instead of 103 millionThe projected population would also be less by the year 2020: 103 million, instead of 111 million.

The study, Demographic Sweet Spot and Dividend in the Philippines: The Window of Opportunity is Closing Fast, commissioned by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and NEDA showed that full implementation of the RH law is key to lowering the fertility rate in the country.

According to the study, a lower fertility rate is "a necessary condition to the creation of the demographic window of opportunity."

In fact, the study said an increase of contraceptive prevalence rate to 70% and the successful implementation of the K to 12 program will reduce the country's total fertility rate and "will produce a favorable condition for a demographic window of opportunity."

"Without government aggressive efforts to reduce the country's total fertility rate and policies geared towards creating more jobs, the window of opportunity from the demographic transition will close quickly without us even noticing it," a policy brief on the study read.

Demographic dividend

On Thursday, Pernia also noted that if the RH law was fully implemented as early as 2008, the country would have been in the position to reap the demographic dividend by 2030.

The UNFPA defines demographic dividend as the "accelerated development that can arise when a population has a relatively large proportion of working-age people coupled with effective human capital investment."

But the Philippines' RH law languished in Congress for more than a decade before it was finally enacted in 2012. (READ: To avoid RH law delays, economic planning chief proposes Duterte EO)

After its enactment, the law suffered a two-year delay and was only declared constitutional by the Supreme Court in 2014. It was not fully implemented until November 2014. 

Pernia lamented that because of the delay in the full implementation of the RH law, the Philippines won't reap its outcome – a demographic dividend – until 2050. – Rappler.com

*Pernia: "The above estimates are conservative because for one thing, they exclude unmarried women and teenagers whose pregnancy rates have been rising. For another reason, these estimates are purely demographic effects, and do not take into acount demographic economic dynamics."

Jee Y. Geronimo

Jee is part of Rappler's Central Desk, handling most of the world, science, and environment stories on the site. She enjoys listening to podcasts and K-pop, watching Asian dramas, and running long distances. She hopes to visit Israel someday to retrace the steps of her Savior.

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